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Hansie Cronje © Reuters

Cronje: the sullied hero who died young



Ten years after he was killed in a mysterious plane crash, former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje remains an enigmatic figure in the sport.

Cronje has often been hailed as a brilliant leader of men who lost just 11 of his 53 tests as captain and won 99 of the 138 one-day internationals at the helm between 1994 and 2000.

But the man who inspired thousands in post-apartheid South Africa showed his ugly side in 2000 when he admitted to accepting bribes from illegal bookmakers to influence matches.

Cronje testified before South Africa's government-appointed King Commission probing corruption in cricket that his "great passion of the game and for my teammates" was matched by "an unfortunate love of money".

Cronje was banned from the game for life in October, 2000, six months after New Delhi police accused him of taking money from bookie Sanjeev Chawla during his team's Indian tour that year.

Two years later, on June 1, 2002, he was dead aged 32 when a light plane in which he was travelling crashed into the mountains near the South African coastal town of George in bad weather.

Cape Town judge Siraj Desai, who conducted an inquest into the crash, blamed the two dead pilots for the tragedy, saying they failed to follow correct procedures for a missed landing approach.

At the time of his death, Cronje was working as a financial manager with a firm that dealt in earth-moving machinery, a far cry from the days when he strode world cricket like a colossus.

A born-again Christian, Cronje initially denied any wrongdoing, but later became the first cricketer to publicly admit his involvement with corrupt bookmakers.

Two former test captains, Salim Malik of Pakistan and Mohammad Azharuddin of India, who were also banned for life by their respective boards following a probe by India's Central Bureau of Invesigation (CBI), have consistently denied any role in match-fixing.

CONTINUING MENACE

But the menace just refuses to go away despite the International Cricket Council pouring millions of dollars into its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) to check malpractices in the sport.

West Indies allrounder Marlon Samuels was banned for two years in 2008 for allegedly passing on match-related information to an Indian bookie during his team's one-day series in India the previous year.

In 2010, two Essex cricketers, Pakistani international Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield, were hauled up on spot-fixing charges following an investigation into betting irregularities in county cricket - Westfield was given a four-month prision sentence earlier this year.

Worse, three Pakistani stars – test captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif – were jailed last year after being found guilty of spot-fixing during the 2010 Lord's test against England.

It was the first time international cricketers were handed prison sentences, a scandal described by outgoing ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat as the worst corruption case since the Cronje episode.

Recently, five Indian first-class players were suspended from the game pending an investigation over a TV sting operation that alleged corruption in domestic matches, including the popular Indian Premier League.

Cricket's dark underbelly, plagued by underworld match-fixing gangs who reportedly bet millions of dollars at virtually every match, remains a constant threat to the sport.

India, cricket's financial powerhouse which accounts for nearly 70 percent of the game's global revenues, is regarded as the hotbed for betting syndicates and match-fixers.

Betting on sports is illegal in India except at horse races, but gambling laws are so lax that offenders sometimes get away by paying a paltry fine of just 200 rupees (approximately R30).

"Unless the betting industry is brought under control in India, you can't stop match-fixing," former ICC chief Ehsan Mani of Pakistan said recently.

"There's no doubt that India, certainly Delhi and Mumbai, is the epicentre of cricket betting."

The powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last month set up a new domestic anti-corruption bureau to tackle the problem, the fourth board to have an independent ACU unit after Australia, Pakistan and England.

India's ACU is being headed by former police office Ravi Sawani, who worked for a few years as the chief investigator of the ICC's own anti-corruption body.

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